Politics & Government

Lexington’s $590M sewer upgrade is $95M under budget. These big projects are next.

EPA: The Scoop on Stormwater

Stormwater runoff is a major cause of water pollution in urban areas. When rain falls on our roofs, streets, and parking lots in cities and their suburbs, the water cannot soak into the ground as it should.
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Stormwater runoff is a major cause of water pollution in urban areas. When rain falls on our roofs, streets, and parking lots in cities and their suburbs, the water cannot soak into the ground as it should.

The city of Lexington’s $590 million, federally-mandated sewer and storm water upgrade is currently $95 million under budget about half-way through the more than 12-year program, city officials said this week.

Much of the savings came from the construction of new wet weather storage tanks — which hold storm water during heavy rain events. The tanks were cheaper than expected. Also, the city thought it needed two storage tanks in some areas but was able to use just one larger tank, which shaved millions from projected costs, said Charlie Martin, the director of the Division of Water Quality and interim Environmental Quality and Public Works commissioner.

Originally, the city projected it would spend $324.9 million by December 2018. Instead, it only spent $229.7 million. Construction on the storm water and sewer overflow fixes started in 2012. It’s one of the largest public works projects in the city’s history.

Martin cautioned that costs will likely rise as the city starts to replace key sewer lines in areas such as Euclid Avenue, Tates Creek Road, Valley Park and Alexandria Drive. Those sewer line replacement projects — similar to the current one on Midland Avenue — will disrupt traffic in coming months.

“The better part of our savings period is over,” Martin said. “We saved a lot of money in the beginning that will give us some latitude in the end.”

Martin gave an update on the progress made on the city’s sewer and storm water overhaul Tuesday to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Environmental Quality and Public Public Works Committee.

The city agreed to the upgrades as part of a 2011 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency over storm and sewer overflows. Those upgrades include new wet weather storage tanks, improvements to pump stations and sewer treatment facilities, and replacement of sewer lines.

More than $40.5 million in sewer line replacements will begin this spring, Martin said. Those projects will likely be more costly because the city has to work with multiple property owners — some of whom live out of state — to acquire easements. In addition to the cost of sewer-line replacement, the city will have to restore private property back to its original condition. If the sewer line is in the street, the city will have to repave roads, he said.

A $7.5 million sewer line replacement along portions of Versailles Road, Alexandria Drive and Valley Park drive will start sometime in March. It won’t be completed until 2020, Martin said.

Wolf Run B&C Trunk Sewers LFUCG

A $5.5 million sewer line replacement project will also start in March in the Lansdowne neighborhood. The areas where pipes will be replaced include Tates Creek Road, Wilson Downing Drive and Laredo Drive. That project won’t be completed until fall 2020.

A $3.5 million project to replace sewer lines near the Lexmark property near New Circle and Newtown Pike in Shady Brook Park will also start in March. It’s scheduled to be completed in spring 2020.

One of the largest sewer replacement projects will start this summer and will include Euclid Avenue, South Upper Street, South Limestone Street, Avenue of Champions and High Street.

UK C,D & E Trunk Sewers LFUCG

It will cost $24 million. Construction will start in June and won’t be completed until spring 2021.

Martin said the city will be working with the University of Kentucky and neighborhoods affected by that project before construction begins.

The city has used a combination of grants, low-interest loans and rate increases to fund the projects. Lexington must have all of its projects completed by Dec. 31, 2026, according to its agreement with federal environmental regulators.

The last time the city raised its sewer fees was in 2015. Previously, the council voted in 2008 to raise sewer fees by 48 percent. The rate then increased 35 percent the following year. Bills have risen slightly since July 2011, when annual rate increases were tied to the consumer price index.

Cane Run Trunk Sewer LFUCG

In 2010, the city projected rate increases every year. So far, due to cost savings and other funding sources, they have been able to avoid that.

The city is on track to meet its 2026 deadline, but the next few years will be difficult, he said.

“I’m still driving towards that,” Martin said. “We are at half time. I am concerned about how troubling these sewer pipeline projects are becoming.”

Martin said the city may need to make adjustments or talk to EPA regulators if the sewer line replacement projects take longer than expected.

“We are delivering the project as cost-effectively as we can and on time,” Martin said. “That’s our goal.”

Beth Musgrave has covered government and politics for the Herald-Leader for more than a decade. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has worked as a reporter in Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois and Washington D.C.